THAT Box of Clothes

I’ve had THAT box of clothes since I was about sixteen. The clothes from when I was fourteen, which didn’t fit any more. The clothes from when I was even younger, that I didn’t wear because, well, I was sixteen and they didn’t have holes in them or the right band logos or superclever slogans scrawled all over them.

Since that time, more things have been added to THAT box. The designery things I bought when they were supercheap on sale in TKMaxx or on eBay, ‘just in case’, even though it was a wing and a prayer as to whether or not they’d fit. Like as always, I’d get home and the trousers wouldn’t go over my knees, and the oversized tops would be babydoll-fit, and I’d try very hard not to have any feelings at all about that, and simply consign them to THAT box. Things I grew out of on the way to being 31 went in there; things I bought because they were beautiful, or because I couldn’t bear to get rid of them. Jeans that seemed totally the wrong shape for my body. Everything that didn’t go to the charity shop or the textiles bin went in THAT box. It’s a big box. It’s been moved around a lot. It’s always been in the back of the wardrobe, or the middle of my floor sometimes, when there wasn’t anywhere else for it to go. I’ve not exactly been haunted or taunted by it, but I’ve wished and wondered if I’ll ever have found any point to keeping everything.

Last year, I lost a lot of size through the excellent Precision Nutrition programme. Like many people, I’ve a long and chequered history of weight loss, weight management, weight thoughts, wildly random exercise regimes, and, indeed, diet. I successfully transformed the shape of my body quite drastically after two years of heavy weight-lifting, which meant I could wear different clothes, but nothing near what was in THAT box. The box wasn’t a goal. It wasn’t a target. I didn’t have my ‘dream’ jeans in there, although there were a few amazing pairs within. They were just clothes, but I really felt I still wanted them. When I finished the PN programme, I went back to the box, and that was possibly the most disappointed I’ve been…only because they still didn’t fit. But, I thought, I’ve kept them this long, and they are closer, I’m sure they’re closer. One day, I thought, I’ll be glad of them.

I don’t really feel like I’ve got much smaller over the last couple of months, but my body has definitely ‘settled’ a bit. The scale is down a few, but that doesn’t mean much, this I’ve certainly learnt over the years. The January running streak and the 20 days I managed of the 30 Day Shred before I succumbed to a combination of extreme cold-having, post-dentistry jaw agony and tension headaches and decided to take the rest of February off have shaped me up a bit, and my job, which is ratcheting up the hours now spring is making itself known again, is pretty physical.

This morning, I went to THAT box. I had a feeling that its time might have come. Based on not much at all, especially considering I’ve eaten more than anyone usually does in a week in the solid belief that it’s the best way to fight a cold. I’ve been thinking it’s a while since I tried anything on in there.

And it was its time. Everything fitted. Everything. The shorts I wore to Chessington World of Adventures in 1996, and I remember, as Rameses’ Revenge got stuck upside down, thinking to myself, oh no, no, not only is this my actual nightmare, but NOW MY SHORTS ARE DIGGING INTO ME. I haven’t worn them since. Now, with a warm day (those will come around again, right?!) they’re an option. Unimaginable.

My first pair of Topshop jeans. Fit perfectly, and go completely with the mid-nineties revival. They’re gorgeous, and contain absolutely no Lycra, so they might last more than a week without splitting their seams.

My incredible Japanese T-shirts, bought from eBay back in the dark ages of the internet, when international post didn’t seem to cost five times as much as the thing you were buying. Still small, but workable, in ways.

It was strange, decanting the box into my wardrobe. All the things that have been waiting for me to catch up with them. Just there, now, waiting for a day out. Things I know and love so well, but haven’t worn in up to seventeen years. It’s a most peculiar place to be. But I like it. And I’m so glad I kept all those things.



Vegetables: My Journey to Dinner

-In the scheme of journeys, it’s hardly self-discovery. It’s not a voyage down the Yangtze or anything. It’s more like, say, driving from Reading to London. Tricksy and a bit tiring if you get caught in traffic, but a relief once you’re there.

In the metaphor of this, I already have a car, inasmuch as I like vegetables. I like them very much. They weren’t really optional when I was little, and it never occurred to me to complain about them, or not to eat them. I don’t remember ever refusing food: I was always aware that there wasn’t a great deal of it, that my mum had gone to a lot of trouble to organise it, and that what was on my plate was all there was going to be available to me that day, so I’d best have it and enjoy it if at all possible. We didn’t eat a massive variety of things because it was the 1980s, and because my parents were the least adventurous in food ever, so it was mostly meat and two veg with a side of potato of some sort, so it was hardly challenging. But I did copy my dad’s eating method, and still do to this day: vegetables first, and then the rest in order of worst to best (so there’s a lot of decisions to be made there, like, is mash better than mince, or are lentils preferable to eggs?).

I saw someone on TV the other day saying, you try feeding a child lentils…they won’t eat them! And I found this quite extraordinary. I mean…you can make lentils do virtually anything. They’re like potatoes. You can make them soft and mushy, or use their inherent starchiness to make your meal crispy and nom…they take on any flavour you like, and, it’s true, I have them with plenty of salt, but I cannot imagine why a child would even think about eating them unless you’ve not got the hang of cooking them. Which is fair enough. It takes time and energy to deal with dried lentils. I don’t mind – and have – that time and energy to learn how I like them, and so that helps. But lentils aren’t really vegetables…are they? I digress. I just found it really weird when I saw that, on Food and Drink, of all the wonderful programmes (second note on that: any dessert that costs over £2 per portion is NOT cheap!), and figured I’d digress to it.

But back to vegetables. I really like them a lot. I like them plain, particularly. I hate it when people cook vegetables in salty water, or, worse, sugary water. To be honest, I don’t even like them cooked in water at all all that much. Steamed is nice. Or raw. But then there’s my very favourite way to eat them. All of them. It’s called nalle mix, in our house, and it goes like this:

Onions first. Always onions first. If I have coconut oil, a good splat of that in a pan, heated up nicely to start things off. I like to cook with coconut oil because, joy of joys, it doesn’t do that burning/smoking thing that olive oil does, and it has just a touch of flavour that goes with basically everything. Then onions, sliced super fine. As many as possible, but reserving at least one for later. Stir until you get some colour on your onions. If you have leeks, they may also go in at this time, for leeks are magical. Once coloured, if there are mushrooms going in, their time is now, for I like to get the water out of them as quickly as possible and you can’t overcook mushrooms, to my mind.

Next up: any other root veg! Swede is brilliant: although there’s little in life as dull as cubing an entire swede, it bulks food out like mad and is really cheap to buy. Turnips are good, too. Carrots would be my exception, as I think they’re too sweet to cook this way, but some people like that in their food, and if you do, then that’s fine. Stick them in. They’ll go a bit mushy. Again, some people like that. And the roots/stalks of broccoli – I really like them. Beetroot is great as well, and can be added raw, or pre-cooked, either is fine. Makes it all nice and pink. So, stick cubed root veg in alongside the onions, stir and stir and stir. At this point, a good slosh of hot water from the kettle, to move everything around a bit.

If I’m going to have a busy week and need to make food stretch, or if I’ve run out of fresh food and I don’t know where my protein is going to be coming from, I’ll boil lentils and kidney beans together in a separate saucepan for fifteen minutes or so, drain them, and throw them in at this point. Perhaps with a bit more water.

If available, it’s herb time. We’re usually lucky enough to have thyme and rosemary growing, so I do a good palmful of that all chopped down tinily, and smoked paprika is my favourite thing ever to add to everything, so that as well. Basically anything. Stir and let it bubble away.

Now time for more chopping. Peppers – red, yellow, orange, green, whatever is there. I like the value bags most supermarkets do, and I chop up the whole lot. I put about half a chopped raw pepper into each serving bowl, and chuck the rest in the pan to keep bubbling. And it’s time for any other business – tomatoes, radishes, aubergines, anything going wonky in the fridge or going cheap in the bargain area of the supermarket veg section, it doesn’t matter how weird it is, as long as it’s not rotten, it’s fine!

Finally: leaves! Cabbage, if possible. Shredded as thin as I can be bothered, and in that goes. By this point, the pan is probably heaped up and protesting a bit. I continue to heap it as much as possible, stirring and trying to get it all mixed up.

Now, it’s time to decant. Some stuff might not be cooked through, but it doesn’t matter at this point because you’re most likely cooking this again. I sometimes portion it up into individual portions, but mostly that takes up fridge space and washing things, so I prefer sticking it all in an old ice cream tub to cool down and then fridging it, and spooning out what I need. The remainder (I tend to have about a handful per serving), the first time I cook this I almost always have with eggs, so I make little holes in the mix, dot a bit more coconut oil in the bottom and drop an egg in each. Then, over the top of each egg, I put something green that doesn’t need a lot of cooking – either the broccoli tops, finely chopped, or spinach, or something like that. It sort of coddles the egg a bit, and stops it being too jellyish. I keep the heat fairly low (actually, I turn it off on mine because the electric hob stays hot for ages) and, crucially, I don’t push it about. I’m aiming for everything on the bottom to get nearly-burnt. There’s too much water in it all for it to get properly burnt, and it adds nom flavour.

I finish chopping any other veg – the spare onion, cucumber, etc, and have that in the bowl ready to go, and I grate some cheese if there is some, and then in goes the veg and cheese on top and if the chilli plant is forthcoming, chillies, and DINNER AT LAST. After all the chopping, I am relieved that it is always worth it 🙂 The main thing is, there’s now enough nalle mix in the cupboard to do two people about four more meals each, which is a godsend when I can’t be bothered to vegetable. It can be heated in a pan with a splash more boiling water in about two minutes, or it can be fried up into little burger-ish cakes, or it can be thinned out and heated for longer until it thickens again and eaten as a soupish thing, or you can stick it in the oven with cheese on top as if it were a pie, or you can eat it on pasta or rice, or add mince to it…

…basically, it is the basis for everything. But mostly I have it with eggs and cheese. YAY! And so, that’s what I eat about four times a week. I love vegetables. With all my vegetable-cooking expertise, I’ve kind of narrowed down my favourite way of eating all of them to this.

But, recently (which was actually going to be the post I was going to make…) I have feared that this is not enough vegetable variety. That I’m cooking them too much, or something, or that I could do with some plain nutrients. So, I’ve decided to confront my fake-Magic Bullet thing with its true purpose: smoothie-making. I’ve never really liked smoothies, because they tend to be super sweet, and because, for some reason, I thought I didn’t like bananas, but that turned out not to be true. But then all this fancy raw green smoothie stuff became commonly discussed, and I thought, huh, I like eating vegetables in a pan, and I like eating vegetables steamed and raw, so maybe I could blend them all up and I wouldn’t have to chop them much and it could be quicker than eating salad.

So this month I am trying to have a vegetabley smoothie every day in the hope of increasing nutrients. I have just consumed kale, 1/4 cooked beetroot, half a banana, half a carrot and some cabbage leaves in drink form. It was good, if quite difficult to swallow, because my fake-Magic Bullet is not really interested in taking things past the fibrous, chewy stage, and I don’t mind fighting a bit with my drink and haven’t yet been able to join the happy world of the Vitamix-owners. One day, I dream, one day. But until then, I shall, instead of cooking everything together into nalle mix, try to grab vegetables and blend them together and finish the whole glass of it. We’ll see how that goes.

Oh, and I’ve done a week of 30-Day-Shred every day. I’m quite enjoying it so far, although sometimes I have truly found it exactly as difficult as people say it is, and sometimes I’ve found it quite easy. I can’t tell the difference between those days, but I’ve got another couple of weeks to work it out. Either way, I feel quite good for it.

Winter Games are GO!


Image enthusiastically purloined from Google. Because it’s brilliant.

I love the Olympic Games. Winter, Summmer, whatever. I remember every single one since I was born in 1982. I’ve teethed during Winter Games, tried to replicate Torvill & Dean’s Bolero by wearing socks and scooting about on a piece of shiny hardboard, tried to move further than two feet when lying on a teatray on ever-so-slightly-snowy British ground, and found myself and dozens of others, post-night-out, accidentally captivated by curling at midnight.

I can ice skate for max. one minute at a time before panicking, falling, and then only clutching at edges in a state of high panic. I’ve never skiied. I truly cannot conceive of why anyone would ever think luge was a good plan. Curling, to someone who regularly sweeps and mops for a living, seems like a discipline at which I might be brilliant, but then it’s on ice, so maybe not.

You get it: the whole Winter Games thing is magic to me, even when I’ve no idea what’s happening. It’s the fact that you’re watching the very best in the world, and the very best in various countries (and Vanessa Mae, what even?!) performing the thing they’ve trained for years, if not their entire lives, to do. It’s beautiful, to watch someone do what they do, and be who they are, in front of the world.

Which is why the Olympic Charter is so important, which is (amongst many other human rights and corruption issues) why these Games have had such non-athlete-centric press. And it’s important to discuss all the things, to show all the sides, to get information out wherever you can, to separate facts from sensationalism, to find truths amidst extraordinarily large numbers of fireworks. To know how things come about.

But it’s also important to, if you usually would, if you ever would, watch the sport. Support your athletes. Support any athlete you like. Enjoy the sport. Enjoy the Games. There’s no point fighting about and for the right to have your rights at the Olympics if you don’t also actively pursue the point, the sport, the pure joy and utter despair of sporting success and failure and wonder and trying and accomplishment that the Games, in themselves, truly are. The athletes did not choose the location of the Games. Many are performing in less than ideal conditions, quite possibly amidst a degree of fear or anxiety that has no place anywhere. And some don’t even have their yoghurt. The least we can do is, whilst talking about the things that need to be discussed, talk about them, too, watch what they’re doing if we can, and delight in their prowess. Or lack thereof. Because it’s sport, and both things can, let’s be honest, be fun.

May the Games be safe, may the sport be great, may we all learn a few things and not forget them, may the best and most deserving win out, and may the Olympic spirit and message shine through where it’s so desperately needed.

The Streak Ceases


So, after 33 days of running 2k every day, I have stopped. And I confess, after looking out the window at the branches snapping from the trees and the rain whipping itself into tiny vicious circles, I am relieved about the decision. Although, although, I quite happily ran in the same conditions earlier in the month.

There are a few things I’ve learnt from the running streak times, though.

1) It’s perfectly possible to exercise every single day. Indeed, it’s easier, because there’s no question about whether or not you might work out every day, for you know that you’re going to, so you just need to work out when in the day.

2) A month is all you need to get better at running. A month is enough to see progress in anything. I shaved minutes off the amount of time it took me to run 2k, and, by the end of the month, could reliably run 5k in under half an hour, which years of running a couple of times a week didn’t achieve.

3) When you resent things, it’s okay to shake them up and move on. What I think the important lesson for me here is, I needed to go straight into something else. Something I wanted to do, but felt I could do without any problem. At the moment I’ve two things going – a 30 day ab workout thing I saw randomly on Twitter, that takes about two minutes a day, but still gives measurable progress, and Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred. Both are easily achievable in half an hour, don’t require any things or prep or organising, and, this time around, I don’t even have to leave the house, so can easily get up early for!

So the plan is to shift things up every thirty days or so, as best makes sense. To try to stick to something for a full month so I can reap the benefits, both mental and physical, of measurably progress. I think it might be an idea to move between indoor and outdoor occupations, but we’ll see how I feel about that come March. The trick is, I think, to be as good to myself as I can be whilst being completely committed to doing something every day.

But, if you find it hard to regulate thrice-weekly workouts or so on, I fully advocate a crack at a streak. Less, daily, is more, weekly, and more overall. Which is a good thing. Obvs listen to your body a bit and all that, but I also found that, by the end of the month (except the bit where I fell over horribly, ripped my leggings and wound up with a bruise the size of an egg on my knee), I was experiencing precisely none of the niggles, aches and pains I had early on in the month. It was, it turned out, possible to run them all off. Which was nice.

The whole thing, in fact, was extremely nice. May it continue!